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MATTOON -- Therapy dogs Buddy and Raven make their rounds every day at Mattoon Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center, dispensing comfort and affection to the residents there.

Raven, a 5-year-old mixed breed dog, has been on the job for four years since becoming the first therapy dog at the center, 2121 S. Ninth St. Buddy, a 6-year-old Siberian husky mix, joined her on April 20 after he was adopted from the Douglas Nursing & Rehabilitation Center after it closed.

Administrator Jade Belcher said hosting the two therapy dogs is part of Mattoon Rehab's goal of making the center more homelike for the residents. She said Buddy has been particularly helpful for the 16 residents who transferred from Douglas Nursing to Mattoon Rehab.

"It helped them because Buddy was familiar to them. It helped them transition to the facility and settle in," Belcher said.

Payroll staff member Valerie Miller said Buddy and Raven are free to roam throughout the building, except for the cafeteria. She said the two dogs walk up to residents in the corridors and in their rooms, and let the residents pet them.

Resident Pat Steffens smiled as she said that she enjoys petting the soft fur of Buddy and Raven when they visit her, adding that both dogs are very loving.

Belcher said the residents really like Buddy and Raven, and the two dogs have made a big difference in helping them feel more cheerful. She and Miller said it's fun to watch the faces of the residents and the center's staff when they see the dogs.

"It makes you smile just to have the dogs here," Miller said.

Some of the residents and their families show their affection for Buddy and Raven by giving them snacks, Belcher and Miller said. Belcher added that the two dogs know which rooms to go to where they are going to have treats. The dogs also take comfort from the residents.

"Once in a while, I will find Raven in my room when it is storming," said resident Jo Crawford.

Buddy and Raven have food dishes, along with a toy box, next to the bird cage in the center's atrium. Miller said resident Jack Franks  serves as the main caregiver for the dogs.

"(Jack) feeds and waters the dogs and looks after the dogs," Miller said. "Jack loves the dogs and the dogs love Jack."

Miller said Buddy and Raven seem to know which residents are comfortable around dogs, so they give space to those who are not. She said the two dogs also are at ease around wheelchairs, walkers and medical equipment, which ensures that they do not get alarmed by these devices or chew on them.

Belcher said Raven already had some training as a therapy dog when Mattoon Rehab adopted her from Save A Mutt Shelter & Rescue in Chrisman. Buddy had two to three years of prior experience as a therapy dog at Douglas Nursing.

Previous owner Dan Haifley said his family found Buddy as a stray about five years ago and kept him as a pet. Haifley said they later offered Buddy as a therapy dog for Douglas Nursing because he was getting lonely at home alone during the day.

"It's comforting for us to see him being used like this. The residents really seem to like him," Haifley said, adding that Buddy has comforted people in times of grief as a therapy dog.

Miller said Buddy does not like to be left alone, so he has been a good fit as a therapy dog at Mattoon Rehab. She said both Buddy and Raven enjoy running in the center's courtyard, but Raven wants to stay outside as long as possible while Buddy prefers being indoors.

Photos of Buddy and Raven line the bulletin board calendar in one of the center's corridors. Miller said Mattoon Rehab staff and residents hold a birthday party for Raven every April and plan to hold one for buddy in January.

"We know one thing -- they are taken good care of," said resident Harold White.

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Contact Rob Stroud at (217) 238-6861. Follow him on Twitter: @RobStroud

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